Understanding The Intimacy Avoidance Marriage

Revised 1/4/20

Intimacy Avoidance is a concept that might seem confusing. We pretty much accept the fact that being human means being normatively wired to seek and maintain community and connection. How can there be such a thing as an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage? After all, isn’t bonding with a life partner essential to the continued existence of our species?


Sadly,  sufferers of intimacy avoidance might want love… but some actually fear intimacy more.

They are, for numerous and diverse reasons, uncomfortable with the kinds of human closeness that help us to self-soothe, regulate our emotions, or feel connected with an intimate partner.

While some may avoid close relationships entirely, some intimacy avoidants do occasionally have friendships, love affairs, and even marry.

Frequently these marriages seem to start well. An intense emotional or sexual attraction leads to a felt (but superficial) bond.

But eventually, the Intimacy Avoidant begins to feel alternately trapped, bored or smothered, or confused, and they may initiate a pattern of hyper-focusing on their new spouse’s shortcomings and begins to systematically disengage emotionally.

Or they may desire intimacy but are completely bewildered and confused by what their partner expects of them.

It is essential in working with an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage for the couples therapist to carefully unpack the complaining spouse’s narrative. Despite what you may have read elsewhere on the internet, The notion of Intimacy Avoidance is not simple, but many therapists do tend to over-simplify this issue.

If the Intimacy Avoidance Marriage Breaks Up

If the Intimacy Avoidance Marriage breakup, the avoidant partner may continue to socialize but frequently loses any desire to date, and for any sexual intimacy. Intimacy Avoidants often drift from one doomed relationship to another or avoid romantic and sexual relationships periodically— typically for a limited time (weeks, months, or years). And some Intimacy Avoidants are content to swear off relationships forever.

Intimacy Avoidance is sometimes related to early childhood trauma (physical neglect, emotional rejection, or other forms of mistreatment), all of which become the foundation of their difficulties with intimacy in later adulthood. Rather than experiencing strong bonding, children who are neglected or abused “learn” that affection is conditional, abusive, absent, or overpowering.

They also learn (on an emotional level) that to get too close is to get hurt, and so it’s best to flee from these feelings.  As an adult, the Intimacy Avoidant usually doesn’t connect the dots between their early life experiences and current adult disappointments.

However, Intimacy Avoidance may also be related to adult-onset PTSD, a personality disorder, and missed most often…a neurodivergent partner usually the husband) who is otherwise high-functioning, but on the autism spectrum.

Here are some examples of intimacy avoidant behaviors:

  • The eternal bachelor. He has many friends but rarely engages in serious dating or courtship.
  • The workaholic who habitually subordinates their intimate partner to the margin of their attention.
  • The soccer mom or football dad who compulsively lives a “kid-centric” lifestyle, neglecting the needs of their spouse.
  • The serial dater who drops partners as intimacy expectations rise.
  • The couple that is more enthralled with technology and entertainment than they are with each other.
  • The emotionally abusive partner uses displays of anger and criticism to push their partner away.

Help for Intimacy Avoidance

Attachment styles established in childhood are not cast in stone. Through therapy, and the deliberate pursuit of healthy relationships, intimacy avoidants can build a sense of what Robert Weiss describes as “earned security.”

Therapy helps some Intimacy Avoidants to transcend their early childhood programming and acquire the necessary skills essential for authentic intimacy and lasting emotional bonds.

Couples therapy for an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage often begins with identifying and addressing co-morbid mental health problems, such as depression, addictions, anxiety, personality disorders, or alexithymia.

Treating The Intimacy Avoidant Marriage Requires Exploring the Family of Origin

I’m annoyed with how many therapy bloggers simplify the notion of Intimacy Avoidance as an act of belligerent withholding. The word “narcissism” also gets tossed around a lot. This is shallow, simplistic thinking at it’s worst.

Self-protection is not the same as narcissism. Many intimacy avoidants come by their fear of intimacy honestly, and to brand them all as selfish narcissists is as unwise as it is unkind.

intimacy avoidant marriageIntimacy avoidance is difficult to discuss in blogs because it is complicated. It’s a catch-all term.

While I agree that some intimacy avoidants might have personality disorders, many suffer from untreated PTSD or Developmental Trauma.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s typical to see an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage also contains elements of Depression, Anxiety, emotional dysregulation, and trauma.

Another issue that frequently labeled as Intimacy Avoidance is how neurodivergent men on the spectrum struggle in marriage.

These men are typically misdiagnosed as narcissists. It takes specialized training to recognize husbands that are neurologically on the spectrum. Unfortunately, 99.99% of couples therapists have not invested in this training. And as a result, when they are treating an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage with a husband on the spectrum, they often make the marital situation worse.

Because we are often the last resort, It’s been our experience that neurodivergent husbands are a significant population of the Intimacy Avoidant Marriages that we see. Most couples therapists miss Aspergers.

Any and all co-existing conditions must be carefully assessed, identified, and addressed alongside couples therapy for the Intimacy Avoidant Marriage. Each case is different.  And sometimes, individual therapy is also needed.

The Importance of Family History

This work usually involves a gentle probing of early attachment history, as well as psycho-education on the connection between their emotional deficits and difficulties they are experiencing in later adulthood. Establishing a safe therapeutic bond is essential in treating Intimacy Avoidance.

The Intimacy Avoidant Marriage begins to improve as the Intimacy Avoidant Spouse achieves some degree of success in regulating their anxiety. Developing self-awareness of how (and why), they act the way they do is critical.

Not all Intimacy Avoidants are alike. And not all Intimacy Avoidant Marriages are the same either. For some, intimacy avoidance therapy is multi-modal; involving a combination of cognitive restructuring, developing increased social skills, group therapy, social learning, and perhaps even medication.

On the surface, Intimacy Avoidance may not appear as a severe problem. To varying degrees, we accept that most American men have been socialized to avoid strong emotions. But in the Intimacy Avoidant Marriage, this problem looms larger as the couple moves through time together.

An Intimacy Avoidant Marriage casts a long inter-generational shadow. It negatively impacts the overall quality of life for both partners and their children as well. With treatment, a person suffering from Intimacy Avoidance can realize a deeper capacity for joy and connection, and overcome the deficits from their emotionally impoverished childhood.

Do You Have an Intimacy Avoidant Marriage?


Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1982`Attachment: Retrospect and prospect’, in C.M. Parkes & J. Stevenson-Hinde (eds) The Place ofAttachment in Human Behavior. New YorkBasic Books.
Google Scholar

Ainsworth, M.D.S. (1989`Attachment beyond infancy’, American Psychologist 44: 709716.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Ainsworth, M.D.S. , Blehar, M. C., Waters, E. & Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJErlbaum.
Google Scholar

American Psychiatric Association (1987) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd edn, revised. Washington DCAmerican Psychiatric Association.
Google Scholar

Angyal, A. (1941) Foundations for a science of personality. New YorkCommon-wealth Fund and Harvard University Press.
Google Scholar

Arend, R. , Gove, F. , & Sroufe, L.A. (1979`Continuity of individual adaptation from infancy to kindergarten: A predictive study of ego-resiliency and curiosity in preschoolers’, Child Development 50: 950959.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Atkinson, R.N. , Heyns, R.W. & Veroff, J. (1954`The effect of experimental arousal of the affiliation motive on thematic apperception’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 49: 405410.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Bakan, D. (1966) The Duality of Human Existence. BostonBeacon Press.
Google Scholar

Bartholomew, K. (1987) `Assessment of adult attachment status within romantic relationships’, unpublished raw data. Stanford University.
Google Scholar

Belsky, J. & Pensky, E. (1988`Developmental history, personality, and family relationships: Toward an emergent family system’, in R.A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (eds) Relationships within Families. OxfordClarendon Press.
Google Scholar

Bowlby, J. (1973) Attachment and loss: Vol. 2 Separation. New YorkBasic.
Google Scholar

Bowlby, J. (1977`The making and breaking of affectional bonds’, British Journal of Psychiatry 130: 201210.
Google Scholar | Medline | ISI

Bowlby, J. (1980) Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss, sadness and depression. New YorkBasic.
Google Scholar

Bowlby, J. (1982a`Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect’, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 52: 664678.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Bowlby, J. (1982b) Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2d). New YorkBasic. (Original work published 1969.)
Google Scholar

Bretherton, I. (1985`Attachment theory, Retrospect and prospect’, in I. Bretherton & E. Waters (eds) Growing points in attachment theory and research, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 50: 338.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Brown, G.W. , Bhrolchain, M.N. & Harris, T. (1975`Social class and psychiatric disturbance among women in an urban population’, Sociology 9: 225254.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals

Brown, G.W. & Harris, T. (1978) Social origins of depression. LondonTavistock.
Google Scholar

Cantor, N. , Smith, E.E. , French, R. deS. & Mezzich, J. (1980`Psychiatric diagnosis as prototype categorization’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology 89: 181193.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Cassidy, J. & Kobak, R. (1988`Avoidance and its relation to other defensive processes’, in J. Belsky & T. Nezworski (eds) Clinical Implications of Attachment. Hillsdale, NJLawrence Erlbaum.
Google Scholar

Cobb, S. (1976`Social support as a moderator of life stress’, Psychosomatic Medicine 38: 300314.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Coyne, J.C. & DeLongis, A. (1986`Going beyond social support: The role of social relationships in adaptation’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 54: 454460.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Crittenden, P.M. (1985`Social networks, quality of child rearing, and child development’, Child Development 56: 12991313.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Crockenberg, S. (1987`Predictors and correlates of anger toward and punitive control of toddlers by adolescent mothers’, Child Development 59: 964975.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Crowell, J.A. & Feldman, S.S. (1988`Mothers’ internal models of relationships and children’s behavioral and developmental status: A study of mother-child interaction’, Child Development 59: 12731285.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Derry, P.A. & Kuiper, N.A. (1981`Schematic processing and self-reference in clinical depression’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology 49: 286297.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Dion, K.K. & Dion, K.L. (1985a) `Individual differences in the experience of love’, paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological AssociationLos Angeles, CA.
Google Scholar

Dion, K.K. & Dion, K.L. (1985b`Personality, gender, and the phenomenology of romantic love’, in P.R. Shaver (ed.) Self, situations and behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 6. Beverly Hills, CASage.
Google Scholar

Egeland, B. & Farber, E.A. (1984`Infant-mother attachment: Factors related to its development and changes over time’, Child Development 55: 753771.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Erikson, E.H. (1963) Childhood and society (2nd Ed.). New YorkNorton.
Google Scholar

Fraiberg, S. (1982`Pathological defenses in infancy’, Psychoanalytic Quarterly 51: 612635.
Google Scholar | Medline | ISI

Freedman, J. (1978) Happy People: What happiness is, who has it, and why. New YorkHarcourt Brace Jovanovitch.
Google Scholar

Frodi, A. & Thompson, R. (1985`Infants’ affective responses in the strange situation: Effects of prematurity and of quality of attachment’, Child Development 56: 12801290.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

George, C. , Kaplan, N. & Main, M. (1984) `The attachment interview for adults’, unpublished manuscript, University of CaliforniaBerkeley.
Google Scholar

George, C. & Main, M. (1979`Social interactions of young abused children: Approach, avoidance, and aggression`, Child Development 50: 306318.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Gifford, R. & O’Connor, B. (1987`The Interpersonal Circumplex as a behavior map’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52: 10191026.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Gilligan, C. (1982) In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, MAHarvard University Press.
Google Scholar

Gottman, J.M. & Levenson, R.W. (1988`The social psychophysiology of marriage’. in P. Noller & M.A. Fitzpatrick (eds) Perspective on marital interaction. Clevedon, EnglandMultilingual Matters Ltd.
Google Scholar

Grossmann, K.E. , Grossmann, K. & Schwan. A. (1986`Capturing the wider view of attachment: a reanalysis of Ainsworth’s Strange Situation’, in C.E. Izard & P.B. Read (eds) Measuring emotions in infants and children, Vol. II. CambridgeCambridge University Press.
Google Scholar

Grossmann, K. , Fremmer-Bombik, E. , Rudolf, J. & Grossmann, K.E. (1988Maternal attachment representations as related to patterns of infant-mother attachment and maternal care during the first year’, in R. A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (eds) Relationships within Families. OxfordClarendon Press.
Google Scholar

Gurian, J.P. & Gurian, J.M. (1983) The Dependency Tendency: Returning to Each Other in Modern America. New YorkUniversity Press of America.
Google Scholar

Hatfield, E. (1984`The dangers of intimacy’, in V.J. Derlega (ed.) Communication, intimacy and close relatiotnships. Hillsdale, NJAcademic Press.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Hazan, C. , & Shaver, P. (1987`Conceptualizing romantic love as an attachment process’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52: 511524.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Jemmott, J.B. (1987`Social motives and susceptibility to disease: Stalking individual differences in health risks’, Journal of Personality 55: 267298.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Kagan, J. (1989`Temperamental contributions to social behavior’, American Psychologist 44: 668674.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Kaplan, N. (1987) `Internal representations of attachment in six-year-olds’, paper presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child DevelopmentBaltimore, Maryland.
Google Scholar

Kiesler, D.J. (1983`The 1982 Interpersonal Circle: A taxonomy for complementarity in human transactions’, Psychological Review 90: 185214.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Klinger, E. (1977) Meaning and void: Inner experience and the incentives in people’s lives. MinneapolisUniversity of Minnesota Press.
Google Scholar

Kobak, R.R. & Sceery, A. (1988`Attachment in late adolescence: Working models, affect regulation and representations of self and others’, Child Development 59: 135146.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Lamb, M.E. , Thompson, R.A. , Gardner, W.P. , Charnov, E.L. , & Estes, D. (1985`Security of infantile attachment as assessed in the “Strange Situation”: Its study and biological interpretation’, in S. Chess & A. Thomas (eds) Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry and Child Development 1985. New YorkBrunner/Mazel.
Google Scholar

Leary, T. (1957) Interpersonal diagnosis of personality. New YorkRonald.
Google Scholar

Levy, M.B. & Davis, K.E. (1988`Lovestyles and attachment styles compared: Their relations to each other and to various relationship characteristics’, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 5: 439471.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Lieberman, A.F. (1977`Preschoolers’ competence with a peer: Relations with attachment and peer experience’, Child Development 48: 12771287.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Lutwak, N. (1985`Fear of intimacy among college women’, Adolescence 77: 1520.
Google Scholar

Lynch, J.J. (1977) The broken heart: The medical consequences of loneliness in America. New YorkBasic Books.
Google Scholar

McAdams, D.P. (1980`A thematic coding system for the intimacy motive’ Journal of Research in Personality 14: 413432.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Main, M. (1981`Avoidance in the service of attachment: A working paper’, in K. Immelman . G. Barlow , M. Main & L. Petrinovitch (eds) Behavioral Development: The Bielefeld Interdisciplinary Project. New YorkCambridge University Press.
Google Scholar

Main, M. & Goldwyn, R. (1988) `An adult attachment classification system’, unpublished manuscript, University of CaliforniaBerkeley.
Google Scholar

Main, M. , Kaplan, N. & Cassidy, J. (1985`Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation’, in I. Bretherton & E. Waters (eds) Growing points in attachment theory and research, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 50: 66106.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Main, M. & Weston, D.R. (1981`The quality of the toddler’s relationship to mother and to father: Related to conflict behavior and the readiness to establish new relationships’, Child Development 52: 932940.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Main, M. & Weston, D.R. (1982`Avoidance of the attachment figure in infancy: Descriptions and interpretations’, in C.M. Parkes & J. Stevenson-Hinde (eds) The place of attachment in human behavior. LondonTavistock.
Google Scholar

Matas, L. , Arend, R.A. & Sroufe, L.A. (1978`Continuity of adaptation in the second year: The relationship between quality of attachment and later competence’, Child Development 49: 547556.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Memmi, A. (1984) Dependence: A Sketch for a Portrait of the Dependent. Translated by P.A. Facey. BostonBeacon Press.
Google Scholar

Morris, D. (1981`Attachment and intimacy’, in G. Stricter (ed.) Intimacy. New YorkPlenum.
Google Scholar

Napier, A.Y (1978`The rejection-intrusion pattern: A central family dynamic’, Journal of Marriage and Family Counseling 4: 512.
Google Scholar | Crossref

Orlofsky, J.L. , Marcia, J.E. & Lesser, I. (1973`Ego identity status and the intimacy versus isolation crisis of young adulthood’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27: 211219.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Pellegrine, R.J. (1971`Repression-sensitization and perceived severity of presenting problem of four-hundred-and-forty-four counseling center clients’, Journal of Counseling Psychology 18: 332336.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Peplau, L.A. & Perlman, D. (1982) Loneliness: A Sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy. New YorkWiley-Interscience.
Google Scholar

Pietromonaco, P.R. & Markus, H. (1985`The nature of negative thoughts in depression’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48: 799807.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Quinton, D. , Rutter, M. , & Liddle, C. (1984`Institutional rearing, parenting difficulties, and marital support’, Psychological Medicine 14: 107124.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Ricks, M. (1985`The social transmission of parental behavior: Attachment across generations’, in I. Bretherton & E. Waters (eds) Growing points in attachment theory and research, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 50: 211230.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Rosch, E. (1978`Principles of categorization’, in E. Rosch & B.B. Lloyd (eds) Cognition and categorization. Hillsdale, NJErlbaum.
Google Scholar

Roth, S. & Cohen. L.J. (1986`Approach, avoidance, and coping with stress’, American Psychologist 41: 813819.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Rutter, M. (1988`Functions and consequences of relationships: some psychopathological considerations’, in R.A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (eds) Relationships within Families. OxfordClarendon Press.
Google Scholar

Sarason, I.G. , Sarason, B.R. & Shearin, E.N. (1986`Social support as an individual difference variable: Its stability, origins, and relational aspects’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50: 845855.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Shaver, P.R. & Hazan, C. (1988`A biased overview of the study of love’, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 5: 473501.
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Shaver, P.R. , Hazan, C. & Bradshaw, D. (1988`Love as attachment: The integration of three behavioral systems’, in R.J. Sternberg & M. Barnes (eds) The Psychology of Love. New Haven, CTYale University Press.
Google Scholar

Sroufe, L.A. (1983a`Infant-caregiver attachment and patterns of adaptation in preschool: The roots of maladaption and competence’, in M. Perlmutter (ed.) Minnesota symposium in child psychology, Vol. 16. Hillsdale, NJErlbaum.
Google Scholar

Sroufe, L.A. (1983b`Socioemotional development’, in J.D. Osofsky (ed.) Handbook of Infant Development. New YorkJohn Wiley & Sons.
Google Scholar

Sroufe, L.A. & Waters, E. (1977`Heart rate as a convergent measure in clinical and developmental research’, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 23: 325.
Google Scholar | ISI

Sroufe, L.A. , Fox, N.E. & Pancake, V.R. (1983`Attachment and dependency in developmental perspective’, Child Development 54: 16151627.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Sullivan, H.S. (1953) The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New YorkNorton.
Google Scholar

Swann, W.B. (1983`Self-verification: Bringing social reality into harmony with the self’, in J. Suls and A.G. Greenwald (eds) Psychological Perspectives on the Self, Vol. 2. Hillsdale, NJLawrence Erlbaum.
Google Scholar

Swann, W.B. (1987`Identity negotiation: Where two roads meet’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53: 10381051.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Swann, W.B. & Pelham, B.W. (1987) `To be known or to be adored: Selection of relationship partners and the self’, unpublished manuscript, University of TexasAustin.
Google Scholar

Swann, W.B. & Predmore, S.C. (1985`Intimates as agents of social support: Sources of consolation or despair?’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49: 16091617.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Vaughn, B. , Egeland, B. , Sroufe, L.A. & Waters, E. (1979`Individual differences in infant-mother attachment at twelve and eighteen months: Stability and change in families under stress’, Child Development 50: 971975.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Waters, E. (1978`The reliability and stability of individual differences in infant-mother attachment’, Child Development 49: 483494.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Waters, E. , Wippman, J. & Sroufe, L.A. (1979`Attachment, positive affect, and competence in the peer group: Two studies in construct validation’, Child Development 50: 821829.
Google Scholar | Crossref | Medline | ISI

Weinberger, D.A. (in press) `The construct validity of the repressive coping style’, in J. L. Singer (ed.) Repression and dissociation: Defense mechanisms and personality styles. Chicago, ILUniversity of Chicago Press.
Google Scholar

Weiss, R.S. (1982`Attachment in adult life’, in C.M. Parkes & J. Stevenson-Hinde (eds), The place of attachment in human behavior. LondonTavistock.
Google Scholar

Wiggins, J.S. (1979`A psychological taxonomy of trait-descriptive terms: The interpersonal domain’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37: 395412.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

And References to Intimacy Avoidance and Neurodivergent Spouses:

Ackerman, J.Griskevicius, V., & Li, N. (2011). Let’s get serious: Communicating commitment in romantic relationshipsJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10010791094. doi:10.1037/a0022412 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DCAuthor.[Crossref][Google Scholar]

Aston, M. (2003). Aspergers in love: Couple relationships and family affairsLondonJessica Kingsley.[Google Scholar]

Attwood, T. (2007). The complete guide to Asperger’s SyndromeLondonJessica Kingsley.[Google Scholar]

Barsalou, L. W. (2008). Grounded cognitionAnnual Review of Psychology, 59617645.10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093639 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Bazeley, P. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: Practical strategiesLondonSage.[Google Scholar]

Berney, T. (2004). Asperger syndrome from childhood into adulthoodAdvances in Psychiatric Treatment, 10341351. doi:10.1192/apt.10.5.341 [Crossref][Google Scholar]

Bostock-Ling, J. S.Cumming, S. R., & Bundy, A. (2012). Life satisfaction of neurotypical women in intimate relationship with an Asperger’s Syndrome partner: A systematic review of the literatureJournal of Relationships Research, 395105. doi:10.1017/jrr.2012.9 [Crossref][Google Scholar]

Caughlin, J.Huston, T., & Houts, R. (2000). How does personality matter in marriage? An examination of trait anxiety, interpersonal negativity, and marital satisfactionJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78326336. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.78.2.326 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Cho, J., & Trent, A. (2006). Validity in qualitative research revisitedQualitative Research, 6319340. doi:10.1177/1468794106065006 [Crossref][Google Scholar]

Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteriaQualitative Sociology, 13321.10.1007/BF0098859 [Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Creswell, J. W. (2008). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJPearson Prentice Hall. [Google Scholar]

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). The Sage handbook of qualitative researchLondonSage [Google Scholar]

Dubin, N. (2009). Asperger Syndrome and anxietyLondonJessica Kingsley Publishers. [Google Scholar]

Frost, M. (2007). Submission to the ministries of education and health on the draft evidence-based guideline for autism spectrum disorder. CCS, Trans.1–27New Zealand [Google Scholar]

Gillberg, C. (2002). A guide to Asperger SyndromeCambridgeCambridge University.10.1017/CBO9780511543814[Crossref][Google Scholar]

Glaser, B. (2002). Conceptualization: On theory and theorizing using grounded theoryInternational Journal of Qualitative Methods, 12338.10.1177/160940690200100203 [Crossref[Google Scholar]

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative researchLondonWiedenfeld and Nicholson. [Google Scholar]

Grigg, C. (2012). ASPIA’s handbook for partner support: A collection of ASPIA’s best information for the support of partners of adults with Asperger’s SyndromeSydneyAuthor. [Google Scholar]

Harvey, J. H., & Wenzel, A. (2002). A clinician’s guide to maintaining and enhancing close relationshipsMahwah, NJLawrence Erlbaum Associates. [Google Scholar]

Heath, H., & Cowley, S. (2004). Developing a grounded theory approach: A comparison of Glaser and StraussInternational Journal of Nursing Studies, 41141150. doi:10.1016/S0020-7489(03)00113-5 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Henault, I. (2006). Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality. From adolescence through adulthoodLondonJessica Kingsley.[Google Scholar]

Hutchison, A. J.Johnston, L. H., & Breckon, J. D. (2009). Using QSR-NVivo to facilitate the development of a grounded theory project: An account of a worked exampleInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology, 13283302. doi:10.1080/13645570902996301 [Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Kendall, J. (1999). Axial coding and the grounded theory controversyWestern Journal of Nursing Research, 21743757. doi:10.1177/019394599902100603[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®[Google Scholar]

Lang, A. (2014). Dynamic human-centered communication systems theoryThe Information Society, 306070. doi:10.1080/01972243.2013.856364 [Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Laurenceau, J. P.Troy, A. B., & Carver, C. S. (2005). Two distinct emotional experiences in romantic relationships: Effects of perceptions regarding approach of intimacy and avoidance of conflictPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 3111231133. doi:10.1177/0146167205274447 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Lewis, M. D. (2000). The promise of dynamic systems approaches for an integrated account of human developmentChild Development, 713643. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00116 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Lorant, J. B. (2011). Impact on emotional connectivity in couples in which one partner has Asperger’s SyndromeLos Angeles, CADoctor of Psychology, Alliant International University. [Google Scholar]

Locke, L.Silverman, S., & Spirduso, W. (2010). Reading and understanding research (3rd ed.). LondonSage.[Google Scholar]

Lovett, J. P. (2005). Solutions for adults with Asperger Syndrome. Maximizing the benefits, minimizing the drawbacks to achieve successBeverly, MAFair Winds Press. [Google Scholar]

MacDuff, G. S.Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (2001). Prompts and prompt-fading strategies for people with autism. In C. MauriceG. Green, & R. Foxx (Eds.), Making a difference: Behavioral intervention for autism (pp. 3750). Austin, TXPro-Ed. [Google Scholar]

Mack, N.Woodsong, C.Macqueen, K. M.Guest, G., & Namey, E. (2005). Qualitative research methods: A data collector’s field guideResearch Triangle Park, NCFamily Health International [Google Scholar]

Marshack, K. J. (2009). Life with a partner or spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going over the edge? Practical steps to saving you and your relationshipShawnee Mission, KSAutism Asperger. [Google Scholar]

McGraw, P. C. (2000). Relationship rescueNew York, NYHyperion. [Google Scholar]

McKay, M.Fanning, P., & Paleg, K. (1994). Couple skills: Making your relationship workOakland, CANew Harbinger.[Google Scholar]

Megremi, A. S. F. (2014, May). Autism spectrum disorders through the lens of complex-dynamic systems theory. OA Autism210. Retrieved from http://www.oapublishinglondon.com/article/1291 [Google Scholar]

Meyer, R. N.Root, A., & Newland, L. (2003). Asperger Syndrome grows up: Recognizing as adults in today’s challenging world. Retrieved from http://www.aspires-relationships.com/Asperger_Syndrome_Grows_Up.pdf [Google Scholar]

Milley, A., & Machalicek, W. (2012, online first version). Decreasing students’ reliance on adults: A strategic guide for teachers of students with Autism Spectrum DisordersIntervention in School and Clinic. doi:10.1177/1053451212449739 [Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Moreno, S.Wheeler, M., & Parkinson, K. (2012). The partner’s guide to Asperger SyndromeLondonJessica Kingsley.[Google Scholar]

Rodman, K. E. (2003). Asperger’s Syndrome and adults … Is anyone listening? LondonJessica Kingsley. [Google Scholar]

Ruppel, E. K., & Curran, M. A. (2012). Relational sacrifices in romantic relationships: Satisfaction and the moderating role of attachmentJournal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi:10.1177/0265407511431190 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®] [Google Scholar]

Silverman, D. (2004). Interpreting qualitative data: Methods for analyzing talk, text and interaction (2nd ed.). LondonSage.[Google Scholar]

Simpson, J. A.Collins, W. A.Tran, S., & Haydon, K. (2007). Attachment and the experience and expression of emotions in romantic relationships: A developmental perspectiveJournal of Personality & Social Psychology, 92355367.10.1037/0022-3514.92.2.355 [Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Thelen, E. & Smith, L. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and actionCambridge, MAMIT Press.[Google Scholar]

Thelen, E., & Smith, J. (1996). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and actionCambridge, MAMIT Press [Google Scholar]

Thompson, E., & Varela, F. J. (2001). Radical embodiment: Neural dynamics and consciousnessTrends in Cognitive Sciences, 5418425.10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01750-2[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Turner, D. W. (2010). Qualitative interview design: A practical guide for novice investigatorsThe Qualitative Report, 15754760. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol15/iss3/19 [Google Scholar]

Weigel, D. J., & Ballard-Reisch, D. S. (2012). Constructing commitment in intimate relationships: Mapping interdependence in the everyday expressions of commitmentCommunication Research, 20122. doi:10.1177/0093650212440445 [Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Wieman, R. J.Shoulders, D. I., & Farr, J.-A. H. (1974). Reciprocal reinforcement in marital therapyJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 5291295. doi:10.1016/0005-7916(74)90081-0 [Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Wilson, B.Beamish, W.Hay, S., & Attwood, T. (2014). Prompt dependency beyond childhood: Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and intimate relationshipsJournal of Relationships Research, 5111. doi:10.1017/jrr.2014.11 [Crossref][Google Scholar]

Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Now what? My wife and I have gone through some real discoveries about ourselves after experiencing mulitple major lifes milestones simultaneously, with the loss of parents and total isolation from the world during lockdown. Which began our introspective journey to why we are who we are, and what we need to do to help ourselves as individuals and what we can do for eachothers recognitions, while maintaining a child with a mild developmental delay diagnosis for now.

    My wife grew up in a houshold with two emotionally detached parents, who were both abusive, controlling, manipulative, and extream legal substance abusers, with 40+ years of legal prescriptions of Opiods, muscle relaxers, and sleeping pills, along with 2-6 alcoholic beverages per day. Her father died last year and her mother had a mental eppisode and gave $500,000 of her and her husbands retirement savings and sold her car to give it all to one total stranger she met on the internet. My wife was questioned by her mother and fathe once for eating bread off a restaurant table because they charged her parents for the bread. Her father told her she ruined the bill because she ate the bread. This was the level of value they placed on her.monitary needs. My wife also developed an eating disorder while living with her parents. So my wife realizimg just how toxic her parent were and are no longer speaks with her mother due to discovering she has been lying to us for 12 years and never told her daughter the truth. My wifes mother and father both had serios attachment issues with all their relationships and had ZERO close freinds. My wife is now distant, independant, extreamly motivated by work, and finds faults in me that are not grounded in reality. Like telling me I have a budget problem, when I have not bought shoes or clothing in 5 years, spend my money on fixing up really broken things around the house mostly for others, and do so not by buying the most expensive fix but the absolute cheapest even inventive fixes. My wife has never been in therapy, her ENTIRE family believes therapist are all quacks, and share this line when ever therapy is discussed: "why don't you visit a therapist, tell him all about my problems, and then tell what I should do."

    While I grew up in a hosehold of a deceased alcoholic father (7yrs old), divorced when I was three. An adopted brother 5 years older who physically and mentally tortured me daily, NOT Brotherly love, as explaind away by my entire family whenever I told them. My brother kicked me in the back so hard and for so long I eas bed ridden for 3 days when I was 12, and my back went out on ots own without physical trauma when I was 14 leaving me on the floor incapable of getting up. I am now overly attached to my relationships learning and struggeling with how to say no, and set healthy boundries. I've been to therapy before 4 times but only found it helpful with one of my therapists.

    We both recognize all this has left us trying to pick up the pieces, while building our marriage. With the vast number of frauds out there, what do we look for when trying to find a decent couples therapist who will not just assign basic explinations, while not using the precise tools (exercises) necessary to help us recognize and adapt to our childhood traumas'; bassically making things worse for us rather than better???

    Are there credentials and certain personality traits we need to look for in a therapist which will help us help ourselves with these complexities? Or are we doomed trying to navigate through a vast feild of people until we find the right fit for us as individuals AND as a couple?

  2. My Avoidant Attachment Disorder manifests itself as intimacy anxiety which is turn causes me to suffer from severe sexual dysfunctions whenever a relationship starts getting serious. The first few sexual encounters with any given woman are usually fine performance-wise. However at some point within a few weeks of a relationship I suddenly lose all desire shutting down my ability to either ejaculate with a partner or to get and hold an erection.

    For decades I thought I was simply easily bored sexually so when the dysfunctions would start I would break off the relationship and move on to another and the whole situation would repeat itself. It wasn’t until after putting off marriage until I was in my 40’s I finally wed and the sexual dysfunctions started on the wedding night and never improved making the marriage both unconsummated. My wife and I spent a few years going from Therapist to Therapist but they all insisted on treating the symptoms (The inhibited ejaculation and E.D.) putting us both through a tortuous and unpleasant series of “Homework Exercises” including Sensate Focus which was the final straw for my wife who blamed herself for my total inability to perform sexually.

    In my 50’s I finally went to a Psychiatrist who suggested family trauma as a child of alcoholics was causing these anxiety related sexual problems but he was unable to take it farther than that and my marriage is still sexless 20 years later. He also mentioned I was suffering from a “Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Disorder” but at the time I had no idea what he was talking about until years later when I came across this article which, unlike anything else I have read about male sexual disorders and DAAD describes me to a “T”

  3. One of the most profound influences on the way we behave in relationships is our early attachment patterns. As children, the attachment patterns we formed were based on adaptations we made in order to feel secure in our environment. The ways we were cared for and related to by our parents or primary caretakers led us to develop an “internal working model” of how others are likely to react to us and how we should react to have our needs met.

    If we had parents who were emotionally available and attuned to us, we most likely formed a secure attachment. However, if we had a parent who was emotionally or physically rejecting, absent, or inattentive to our needs, we may have formed an avoidant attachment pattern in which we felt like we had to take care of ourselves.

    In this case, we may have found that the best way to get our needs met was to act like we didn’t have any. We may even have disconnected from our own awareness of our needs. If we had a parent who sometimes met our needs but other times was intrusive or emotionally draining by acting out of their own need, we may have formed an ambivalent/anxious attachment pattern in which we became confused and preoccupied. We may have had to cling or seek reassurance, fearing our needs would not get met.

    As we grow up, these early attachment patterns may become models for how we expect relationships to work throughout our lives. The behaviors and defenses we formed as a result of these childhood dynamics sometimes go on to influence us in our relationships. People who experienced an avoidant attachment with a parent will likely go on to form a dismissive attachment pattern in their adult romantic relationship. A person with an ambivalent/anxious attachment pattern as a child will be prone to form a preoccupied attachment.

    Many people are curious about which attachment category applies to them along with the psychological defenses they’ve formed that interfere with their relationships. But before we get into how each of these attachment patterns manifest themselves in a relationship, it’s important to note that we aren’t always right about identifying which category of attachment best applies to us and our relationships.

    In this article, I’ll try to illuminate what dismissive and preoccupied attachment styles look like, but also why it’s challenging for people to correctly determine their attachment pattern. This process is beneficial because if a person can accurately identify their pattern, they can start to take steps to form more secure attachments, challenge their defensive adaptations, and enjoy closer, more satisfying relationships.

    Dismissive Attachment

    When a child experiences an avoidant attachment pattern, they develop a tendency to feel pseudo-independent. They learned to take care of themselves or self-parent. Their early environment triggered them to disconnect from their needs because it felt painful or shameful to experience them when expressing them led to no response.

    As adults, these individuals maintain a sense of disconnection to protect themselves from painful emotions. They even denigrate others for having needs. As a result, they may feel blank or directionless in relation to their wants. Their desires feel problematic or uncomfortable, because of the shame they would feel to not have their wants fulfilled or their needs met.

    article continues after advertisement

    People with a dismissive attachment pattern tend to be the “distancer” in their relationship. They may be more emotionally unavailable or even seek isolation. Their partners may complain that they are not there for them or interested in meeting their wants or needs. This is in large part because a dismissively attached individual has learned to be self-contained. Since they’ve learned to shield their own wants and needs from others, they have trouble understanding when someone else wants or needs something from them.

    People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment tend to be more inward and deny the importance of being close to someone else. They may be psychologically defended and easily inclined to shut down emotionally. They may also struggle to understand or identify the emotional needs of others and themselves.

    Some people find it easy to label their partner as having a dismissive attachment pattern, however, it’s not always easy to see this pattern in yourself. For instance, when someone with a dismissive attachment pattern feels a need, they often assume they’re being too needy instead of realizing that this is a basic human response. In addition, they may feel aloof or like the distancer when they’re being pursued by their partner, but if they feel rejected, they may feel extremely anxious. They may be a distancer in their relationship, but when their partner pulls away, they become insecure and start to pursue.

    Babies who were identified as having an avoidant attachment style often showed little outward reaction to a parent’s absence, however, a heart monitor revealed an elevated heart rate as a marker of their anxiety. Similarly, an adult with a dismissive attachment still experiences anxiety and still wants security, but their learned mode of relating is clouding their natural desire and tolerance for closeness. They feel unclear about what they want and need from others, and they are afraid of the unbearable shame of not feeling important enough to attend to. Because of this confusion, they may incorrectly identify their attachment pattern as anxious.

    article continues after advertisement

    Preoccupied Attachment

    A person with a preoccupied attachment is often seen as the “pursuer” in a relationship. They may feel like they need to make an active effort to get what they want and therefore, can sometimes engage in behavior patterns that seem clingy, controlling, or intrusive. Because they’re used to not having their needs met consistently or in an attuned or sensitive manner, they may often feel insecure, jealous, or nervous about the state of their relationship. They may have a tendency to look to their partner to “rescue” or “complete” them.

    An anxiously attached person assumes they want closeness but engages in patterns that actually leave a certain amount of emotional turmoil and distance. Although they may perceive themselves as feeling real love toward their partner, they may actually be experiencing emotional hunger. Their actions, which are often based on desperation or insecurity, exacerbate their own fears of distance or rejection. When their partner does come closer or gives them what they want, they may react in unconscious ways that push their partner away or create distance. They may find that their true tolerance for intimacy is much smaller than they thought because real love and closeness would challenge their core beliefs about themselves and relationships. Therefore, while they may believe they want security, they actually feel compelled to remain in a state of anxiety.

    In general, an insecure attachment pattern on either side of the spectrum can leave us with skewed ideas about ourselves, about how others are likely to treat us and how much love and care we deserve. A dismissive person may believe they need more space, while a preoccupied person may think they need more closeness. In reality, most of us maintain a fundamental belief that we are unworthy or incapable of getting the love we want and need, and we form core defenses that uphold that belief. If we can be open to knowing our attachment pattern and learning the behaviors that get in the way of having the love we say we want, we can start to forge a path toward security and form healthier, more rewarding long-term relationships. We can challenge our old way of thinking about ourselves and begin to internalize a new image of ourselves as lovable and worthy of love.

    Facebook iconSHARE
    Twitter iconTWEET
    Envelope iconEMAIL
    Self Recon
    Submitted by TheTrueTrue on December 2, 2018 – 7:43pm
    Thanks for this article. Ive been on a search to figure out why I’m the way I am and why people respond to me the way they do for some time. The only thing present for all those experiences is myself and the search for myself has led me to all different types of things. The anxious-avoidant articles, codependent articles, mbti, pinterest, lol Dismissive sounds more like it unfortunately. The irony of it is while you feel like you are advocating for what you need, feeding that emotional hunger, it appears to be controlling to the receiver or other attachment styles. My ex was the former and Im the later form of attachmebnt according to this article and we couldnt help eachother at all. Now Im dating someone who has a normal attachment to others. Ideal fam life from childhood into the present and I feel like I coukd likely push him away while I feel like Im brining him closer to me. I feel sorrowful in a way because I dont know the first step to fixing me for me…which I imagine woukd indirectly positively affect anyone around me, including the bf. Where are those articles at? The, dismissive attached person’s not so anonymous, anonymous. A girl can drean right?!

    Book for attachment styles
    Submitted by Adrian Villalobos-Moreno on October 29, 2019 – 4:43pm
    Try “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller‎

    I have read it and it offers a lot of insight on attachment styles. You may also want to look at forgiveness. The practice of knowing how to forgive ourselves for not knowing better, as well as others when they hurt apparently goes a long way. I just recently started to learn forgiveness because I didn’t grow knowing or being taught about. I know this book will help. It has me. Good luck on your inner journey.

    Proving it’s difficult to know…
    Submitted by anon on June 2, 2019 – 6:47pm
    Yeah, I agree it’s difficult to know which camp you fall in. I first empathised with the avoidant then recognised myself in the preoccupied’s desire for greater closeness (but not the behaviour). I think at the end of the day, we’re all individuals and probably have a mix of stuff going on. I tend to hide behind positive or neutral emotions, have difficulty accessing anger (and often mistake it for anxiety), automatically deactivate and calm down when other people get heated (but it’s because I think there needs to be one calm person around or we’ll never get to the bottom of this!), and have great difficulty understanding my own needs, noticing my own emotions, knowing when I’m being mistreated etc. etc. etc.

    But I’m also always the person who ‘fixes’ the relationship, puts my needs aside for theirs, puts more effort in than they do etc. which sounds preoccupied. I always end up the ‘mother’ to my bfs and over time they become so child-like that I am stuck in a kind of limbo where I care so much about them I don’t want to leave but have lost all romantic interest, so want to leave. I seem to get perpetually stuck in this “pain either way” limbo.

    It took me almost 25 years of suffering with sexual dysfunctions, intimacy anxiety and a lot of stress and pain, plus visits to many therapists over the years to finally get an answer why I can only function sexually with strangers, paid sex and one night stands. Any kind of ongoing intimate relationship with a woman causes me to be unable to perform sexually. Most therapists threw in the towel unable to help but when I switched from sex therapists to a psychiatrist he explained that I had an avoidant attachment disorder due to childhood abuse which in turn would cause severe intimacy anxiety which shut down my ability to get an erection or ejaculate (inhibited ejaculation) Unfortunately there is no cure and my 20 year marriage has been sexless from the beginning because of this. I want intimacy but by body doesn’t.

    Post Comment

  4. “But eventually, the intimacy avoidant begins to feel alternately trapped, bored, or smothered, and then initiates a pattern of hyper-focusing on their new partner’s shortcomings and begins to systematically disengage emotionally”

    For years I have been trying to find out what causes me to lose desire for a woman after one or two sexual encounters. This quote from you article caught my eye because of the word “boredom” I never felt any anticipatory anxiety or any anxiety before or during sex even when my body would suddenly shut down and I would no longer be able to perform. What I thought it was, and what I told myself it was in the 15 years I dated and after marrying was that I was simply bored sexually very easily. This explanation made perfect sense because that’s exactly how I felt- sexually bored. When this would happen I would break off the relationship and start another just to have it start all over again. But when I started researching the probable being “bored” as a cause of sexual dysfunction, especially at the beginning of a new relationship was never mentioned anywhere. Now I know what it is- some kind of subconscious anxiety that shuts me down sexually. I went to a number of Sex Therapists and anxiety was never even mentioned. Too bad This problem has made my life miserable and caused my 30 year marriage to be sexless.

  5. “But eventually, the intimacy avoidant begins to feel alternately trapped, bored, or smothered, and then initiates a pattern of hyper-focusing on their new partner’s shortcomings and begins to systematically disengage emotionally” Wow in all the years I have been trying to find out why my relationships start out fine but then, after a few sexual encounters I suddenly lose all desire and my ability to function sexually with the women. I married in my late 30’s but dated 15 years before that and although I felt very attracted to the women I dated the relationship would only last a few weeks at most and then I would want out. My marriage has been sexually troubled from the beginning and for decades we have lived as room mates. I never knew it was all caused by anxiety until recently. Thank you for this great article.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}